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Sep 06 2008
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The Hindu, Friday, Sep 05, 2008

Colloquium to assess water management systems in Asia

T. Ramakrishnan

CHENNAI: Later this month, the Indian Institute of Technology-Madras
will host an Asia-level colloquium on water, an event that will attract
policymakers, water planners, public water managers, water rights groups
and activists.

The colloquium, a preparatory meeting to the World Water Forum summit
scheduled for March next in Istanbul, is expected to help assess the
water management systems across Asia, while serving as a platform for
the participants to share successful experiments to find systemic,
sustainable and people-responsive solutions.

Originally the colloquium was scheduled to be held in Philippines. But
the democratisation of water management, carried out as an experiment by
a group of engineers of the Tamil Nadu Water Supply and Drainage (TWAD)
Board in 145 village panchayats across 29 districts during 2004-2006,
made the organisers shift the venue to Chennai, says V. Suresh,
Director, Centre for Law, Policy and Human Rights Studies, which is one
of the organisers of the event.

The Change Management Group of engineers of different water departments
in Tamil Nadu, the Asian delegates of the Reclaiming Public Water
Network (RPW), Transnational Institute (TNI), Amsterdam, Corporate
Europe Observatory (CEO), Amsterdam, and the Focus on the Global South,
Manila, are involved in the three-day event.

Santha Sheela Nair, Secretary of the Union government’s Drinking Water
Supply Department, will inaugurate the meeting on September 25. B.K.
Sinha, Director-General, National Institute of Rural Development, will
take part in the deliberations.

Dr. Suresh, who is associated with the democratisation experiment, says
that on September 26, water planners, operators, associations of
engineers, trade unions and activist groups would take part in a ‘water
dialogue.’ There is a plan to pod-cast the dialogue live on the web and
invite the viewers to send in questions for the panel.

Speaking of the Board’s experiment during 2004-2006, a member of the
Change Management Group, recalls that an acute water crisis and
questions raised in certain quarters about the relevance of his
organisation had prompted a group of engineers to introspect themselves.
As many as 240 engineers, ranging from chief engineers to assistant
engineers, were invited to a series of discussions, which were based on
the traditional concept of ‘koodam’ (where all participants meet as
equal members of society). In August 2004, the engineers adopted what is
now called the Maraimalai Nagar Declaration. The ideas of community
involvement and water conservation governed the implementation of the

The engineer says that savings in the range of 8 per cent to 44 per cent
achieved with a normative budget was one of the outcomes of the
experiment. He notes that Vibhu Nayar, earlier associated with the
democratisation experiment in the TWAD Board during 2004-2006 and the
present project director of the Irrigated Agriculture Modernisation and
Water Resources Management (IAMWARM), is playing a role in seeking to
replicate the experiment.

M.S. Vaidyanathan, an executive engineer of the Agricultural Engineering
Department, one of the implementing agencies of the World Bank-funded
IAMWARM project, says taking their cue from the Board’s experiment, 160
engineers of his department have evolved a vision statement called
‘WARAM’ (Watershed and Agri Resources Re-engineering and Management).
This is being implemented in 15 districts. A baseline survey is under
way to finalise long-term activities based on the community perspective.
Works such as planting of saplings and repairs to drinking waterlines in
schools are also being executed with the participation of the people.

An official of the Water Resources Department, the nodal agency for the
project, says that besides the efficient use of water, the effective use
is the other salient feature of the experiment. The democratisation
concept has found immediate takers among engineers of the Agricultural
Engineering Department, as the TWAD Board’s engineers had shared their
experiences with their counterparts.

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